Why Are Lutheran Churches Named After Saints

By Paul King •  Updated: 10/04/23 •  14 min read

The practice of naming Lutheran churches after saints has a rich historical background and holds significant theological importance within the Lutheran tradition. This tradition finds its roots in the early Christian church, where believers sought to honor the memory and teachings of those who had lived exemplary lives of faith.

One biblical example that supports this practice is found in the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, often referred to as the ‘Hall of Faith.’ Here, the writer of Hebrews recounts the stories of various Old Testament figures who demonstrated great faith in God. These individuals, such as Abraham, Moses, and David, serve as spiritual role models for Christians throughout history.

By naming Lutheran churches after saints, believers are reminded of the faithful lives and teachings of these individuals. Just as Hebrews 11 encourages us to ‘remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God’ (Hebrews 13:7), the names of saints serve as a reminder of the faithful witness and teachings they embodied.

Furthermore, the naming of Lutheran churches after saints serves as a tangible connection to the historical and theological roots of the Lutheran tradition. For example, a Lutheran church named after Martin Luther, the key figure in the Protestant Reformation, pays homage to his pivotal role in shaping the beliefs and practices of Lutherans worldwide. It also serves as a reminder of the ongoing call for reformation and renewal within the church.

In addition to biblical figures and historical figures like Martin Luther, Lutheran churches may also be named after saints recognized within the wider Christian tradition. For instance, Saint Peter, who is considered the first Pope in Catholicism, can be seen as a symbol of the apostolic foundation of the Christian faith. Naming a Lutheran church after Saint Peter acknowledges the shared heritage of all Christians and the unity that exists despite theological differences.

The process of selecting saints for church names involves careful consideration and discernment within the congregation. It is important to choose saints whose lives and teachings align with Lutheran beliefs and values. This process often includes studying the biographies of potential saints, examining their theological writings, and praying for guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, the naming of Lutheran churches after saints is not just a matter of historical or theological significance. It also has a profound impact on the worship and identity of Lutheran communities. By gathering in a church named after a saint, believers are reminded of the communal nature of the Christian faith. They are reminded that they are part of a larger body of believers who have gone before them and continue to worship God in unity.

In conclusion, the practice of naming Lutheran churches after saints is deeply rooted in biblical teachings, historical significance, and the desire to foster a sense of community and identity among believers. By honoring the memory and teachings of saints, Lutherans seek to connect with their rich heritage and draw inspiration for their own faith journeys.

Key Takeaways

Historical Origins of Naming Lutheran Churches After Saints

The practice of naming Lutheran churches after saints finds its historical origins in the early Christian tradition of venerating and seeking intercession from holy figures. This tradition can be traced back to the early church, where believers would gather in the name of a specific saint to seek their guidance and blessings.

One biblical example that exemplifies this practice is the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he writes, ‘To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints’ (1 Corinthians 1:2). Here, Paul addresses the believers in Corinth as saints, emphasizing their holy status in Christ Jesus.

This practice of referring to believers as saints continued throughout the centuries and influenced the naming conventions within the Lutheran church. By naming their churches after saints, Lutherans express their deep reverence for these holy figures and acknowledge their significant role in the spiritual life of believers.

One story from the Bible that illustrates the impact of saints is the conversion of Saint Paul. In Acts 9:1-19, we read about how Paul, then known as Saul, was a persecutor of Christians. However, on his way to Damascus, he encountered a blinding light and heard the voice of Jesus, who asked him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ This encounter led to Paul’s conversion and transformation into one of the most influential saints in Christian history.

The story of Saint Paul’s conversion serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of faith and the intercession of saints. Naming Lutheran churches after saints allows believers to connect with these holy figures and seek their intercession in their own spiritual journeys.

Over time, the naming practices of Lutheran churches have evolved to encompass a wide range of saints, representing various aspects of the faith and different periods of history. This evolution reflects the dynamic nature of the Lutheran tradition, which is rooted in historical foundations but also adapts to changing circumstances.

By understanding the historical origins and evolution of naming practices, we gain a deeper appreciation for the significance of saints in Lutheran theology. The saints serve as inspiring examples of faith, and their intercession can provide comfort, guidance, and blessings to believers in their spiritual lives.

Significance of Saints in Lutheran Theology

Significance of Saints in Lutheran Theology

The significance of saints remains an important aspect in the theology of the Lutheran tradition. Despite the controversy surrounding the veneration of saints in the Lutheran tradition, there are certain perspectives on the intercession of saints that have shaped Lutheran theology. Let us delve deeper into these perspectives, supported by relevant facts and quotes from the Holy Bible.

  1. Intercession as a reflection of the communion of saints: Lutherans believe in the concept of the ‘communion of saints,’ where all believers, both living and departed, are united in Christ. The intercession of saints is seen as an expression of this spiritual connection. As the book of Hebrews 12:1 states, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’ This verse emphasizes the unity and support that believers receive from the saints who have gone before them.

  2. The primacy of Christ as the sole Mediator: While Lutherans acknowledge the intercessory role of saints, they firmly assert that Christ is the only Mediator between humanity and God. The saints are seen as fellow believers who can pray for us, but their prayers do not replace or overshadow the role of Christ. As the apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5, ‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.’ This verse clearly establishes Jesus as the primary mediator, highlighting the centrality of Christ in the Lutheran theology.

  3. The emphasis on faith and grace: Lutheran perspectives on the intercession of saints are grounded in the understanding of salvation by grace through faith. The intercession of saints is considered as an expression of the faith and love that exist within the body of believers. As stated in Ephesians 2:8-9, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ This verse underscores the belief that salvation is a gift from God, received through faith, and not based on our own efforts.

To further illustrate the significance of saints in Lutheran theology, let us turn to the story of the conversion of Paul in the book of Acts. Paul, formerly known as Saul, was a persecutor of Christians. However, on his way to Damascus, he encountered a bright light from heaven and heard the voice of Jesus. In that moment, Paul’s life was transformed, and he became one of the greatest proponents of the Christian faith. This story highlights the transformative power of God’s grace and the role that believers, both living and departed, can play in interceding for others.

The Role of Saints in Lutheran Worship and Liturgy

One fundamental aspect of Lutheran worship and liturgy is the inclusion of saints in various rituals and practices. The role of saints, as depicted in the Bible, serves as a significant inspiration for Lutheran music. The hymns and melodies incorporated into worship services connect worshippers with the stories and experiences of these saints, allowing them to draw guidance and inspiration from their examples.

In the book of Psalms, we find a verse that beautifully encapsulates the power of music in worship: ‘Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre’ (Psalm 33:2). Lutherans believe that incorporating the hymns and melodies composed by saints into their worship services is a way to praise and honor God, as well as to learn from the faith and experiences of these individuals.

Furthermore, the role of saints extends beyond music in Lutheran worship. In the Bible, we find numerous instances where people sought the intercession of saints in times of need. For example, in the book of James, the apostle encourages believers to ‘pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working’ (James 5:16). Lutherans believe that saints, who have lived righteous lives and are now in the presence of God, have the ability to intercede on behalf of believers. Therefore, they may ask for the prayers and assistance of saints during times of need, viewing them as powerful advocates before God.

This belief in the intercessory role of saints adds a deeper dimension to Lutheran prayer. It fosters a sense of communion and unity with the faithful who have gone before, as well as with fellow believers in the present. The book of Hebrews reminds us of this connection, stating, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us’ (Hebrews 12:1). This passage emphasizes the idea that we are not alone in our faith journey, but rather surrounded by a ‘cloud of witnesses’ – the saints who have gone before us and now cheer us on.

The understanding of saints in worship and prayer sets the stage for the subsequent exploration of how saints are chosen for Lutheran church names. By honoring and incorporating the stories and experiences of saints in their worship, Lutherans seek to maintain a rich and meaningful connection to the biblical teachings and the faithful who have come before them.

How Saints Are Chosen for Lutheran Church Names

When selecting names for Lutheran churches, careful consideration is given to the lives and legacies of saints. The criteria for choosing saints in Lutheran church names are based on the teachings of the Holy Bible and the examples set by these saints. As it is written in the book of Hebrews 13:7, ‘Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.’

The lives of saints serve as a testament to their commitment to the Christian faith. They dedicated their lives to following Jesus Christ and spreading the Gospel. The apostle Paul, for instance, traveled extensively to preach the message of salvation and establish churches. As Paul himself said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.’ His unwavering faith and perseverance in the face of adversity make him an exemplary saint for Lutheran churches.

Moreover, saints are chosen for their exemplary virtues, which are highlighted in various stories from the Bible. For example, the story of Ruth showcases her loyalty and devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth’s words in Ruth 1:16-17 resonate with the idea of commitment and selflessness, ‘Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.’ Her character is a testament to the virtues of loyalty, love, and faithfulness, which are valued in the Lutheran community.

The contributions of saints to the spread of the Gospel are also taken into account when selecting names for Lutheran churches. The apostle Peter, for instance, played a crucial role in the early Christian movement. Jesus himself recognized Peter’s significance when he said in Matthew 16:18, ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.’ Peter’s unwavering commitment to proclaiming the message of salvation makes him a revered saint in the Lutheran tradition.

Local traditions also hold significance in the choice of saints for Lutheran church names. These traditions may be influenced by the cultural heritage of the community and the historical significance of certain saints in the region. For example, if a Lutheran church is located in a region with a strong German heritage, the name Martin Luther might be chosen in honor of the influential reformer who played a pivotal role in the Lutheran Reformation.

Overall, the intentional selection process of saints for Lutheran church names is rooted in the desire to honor these individuals and inspire the congregation to emulate their faith and devotion. By choosing names that reflect the values and beliefs of the community, Lutheran churches foster a sense of identity and unity among its members. As it is written in Ephesians 4:16, ‘From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.’

Impact of Naming Lutheran Churches After Saints on Community and Identity

The practice of naming Lutheran churches after saints has a profound impact on the community and identity of the congregation. It is rooted in a rich tradition that connects them to the spiritual heritage of Christianity, reminding them of the virtues and values embodied by the saints. As it is written in Romans 1:7, ‘To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,’ we are called to emulate the saints and their devotion to God.

One relevant story from the Bible that exemplifies the significance of naming churches after saints is the story of Saint Peter. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said to Peter, ‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.’ This passage highlights the importance of Peter as a foundational figure in the Christian faith. By naming a Lutheran church after Saint Peter, the congregation not only honors his memory but also acknowledges his role in establishing the church.

Furthermore, the practice of naming churches after saints encourages community engagement and learning. It invites individuals to delve into the life and teachings of the saint whose name the church bears. For example, by naming a Lutheran church after Saint Paul, the congregation is inspired to study his writings and gain a deeper understanding of his contributions to the early church. As stated in Philippians 3:17, ‘Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.’ This verse emphasizes the importance of learning from the examples set by the saints.

By embracing the practice of naming churches after saints, Lutheran communities are reminded that the church is not just a physical building but a community of believers united by a shared faith and a desire for spiritual growth. As it is written in Ephesians 2:19-20, ‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.’ This passage emphasizes the sense of belonging and unity that comes from being part of a congregation named after a saint.

Paul King

I post written versions of my powerful sermons exploring topics like prayer, praise, biblical truths, and more expressions of faith. My church has a deeply spiritual culture, which I try to convey through vivid storytelling and applications in our everyday life. I spread the Good Word with lots of conviction and passion.